Posts tagged " forgiveness "

Soul Care Conversation (Spiritual Model for Healing from Moral Injury; Third Step – Self-Acceptance)

April 17th, 2017 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversation is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

During the last several months we have had a conversation on a proposed spiritual therapeutic model toward healing from moral injury. This six step model includes;

  1. Acknowledge (confession) – take an honest assessment of thoughts and behavior, then acknowledge guilt and shame, and anger
  2. Forgiveness – choose forgiveness of self in the trauma experience as well as others who may have had responsibility
  3. Self-acceptance – renounce self lies like; I’m no good, I’m nothing, I’m worthless, I can’t be loved, and accept the reality of being a child of God
  4. Renewal – begin to retrain mind
  5. Amends – restoration involves a direct way to repair what has been damaged or broken (for the veteran, maybe difficult to go back to place of injury, however, there are other ways; contribute to refugee or orphan fund in the area of the war, volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen, etc)
  6. Accountability – be in a community that offers accountability and support

We have discussed the first two steps; confession and forgiveness. This month, we will discuss the third step, self-acceptance. The concept of self-esteem, self-love, and self image has become a relevant and hot topic, and the subject of much debate. One of the criticisms for today’s culture is that people have become self-centered. We live in a day and culture in which we have become lovers of self. We have become self-centered and satiated with self-actualization, self-esteem, self-worth and self-fulfillment. All we need to do is look at the titles of best selling books or read contemporary psychology.

However, without getting into the debate, one thing that is clear, a veteran who experiences moral injury finds it extremely difficult to accept self.


In my counseling sessions as a chaplain, I have experienced many who are insecure. People simply don’t like themselves. I have counseled numerous persons who engage in self-rejection because they think that God is angry with them because they have done something terribly wrong or because they are not perfect. As a result, they live in a constant state of frustration, continually rejecting themselves. Many feel bad every time they make mistake.

Or, people try to please God with their works. They live daily on a performance treadmill, always trying to do something to feel good about themselves. Everything they do is to ensure they are in right standing with God. To live this way, they become exhausted, frustrated, and unhappy.

What often happens is that no matter how much we love God or chose to do what is right, we still cannot accept ourselves. It is difficult to like “me.” Both of these life styles lead to negative feelings that result in depression, discouragement, and possibly self-destruction.


From a previous in-depth conversation about moral injury, we understand that moral injury produces guilt and shame from something done or witnessed that goes against one’s values. We have looked at the spiritual implications of confession and forgiveness. Both can be a means to experiencing positive spiritual, emotional and physical well-being. The critical phrase is “can be.”

Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures remind us that there is nothing we can do to earn right standing with God or salvation. There is absolutely nothing we can do to make God love us more or less that God already does.

Our self-acceptance affects our understanding of and relationship with God. Our self-acceptance also influences our social life and our relationships with others. So, how can we move beyond “can be”?


Scripture reveals to us a spiritually balanced concept of self-image. Let’s review some of the steps to self-acceptance;

  • we consider our worth as individuals (Psalm 139:13-14, “You are made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.” [NLT])
  • we think properly of ourselves (Romans 12:3, the Apostle Paul writes, “As God’s messenger, I give each of you this warning: Be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you.” [NLT].)
  • we will continue to make mistakes, however God will continue to cover us and not condemn us (Isaiah 61:10 shares, “I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness.” [NLT])
  • we learn to accept ourselves as God sees us (because of grace); who we are and where we are (Romans 3:23 states, “For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins.” [NLT])
  • we then can discover the concept of self as it develops out of our understanding of God and God’s grace (Paul writes to the church in Corinth, 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me – and not without results.” [NLT])

How we understand these steps will be key in how we live our lives, in how we treat others, in how we think of ourselves, and ultimately in what we do with our lives. That we think properly of ourselves is important.

Also important to understand, each day we will most likely mess up, sin. God will not be mad at us because we are not perfect. God desires for us to run the race!

For the veteran, it takes on importance knowing that God is on the veteran’s side, God wants the veteran to feel good about her/himself, and that each day the veteran makes progress toward accepting self. It is in this journey the veteran can realize and live out his/her life with contentment and even joy.

What stories do you have from your personal journey or the journeys of others in how to experience self-acceptance? Next time, we will discuss the fourth step; renewal. Until then, thank you for the conversation…


Moral Injury Shows the Limits of Forgiveness – an article by Max Lindenman posted on Patheos

March 14th, 2017 Posted by Articles 1 comment

Max Lindenman explores the difficulty for veterans to experience forgiveness.

Soul Care Conversation (Spiritual Model for Healing from Moral Injury; Second Step – Forgiveness)

March 14th, 2017 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversation is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

Some researchers and practitioners claim that there is no place in psychoanalytic work for forgiveness. “Clinically, the concept of forgiveness is seductive, implying that there should be a common outcome to a variety of injuries, stemming from different situations and calling for different solutions.” (“Leaps of faith: is forgiveness a useful concept?” International Journal of Psychoanalysis, October 2008, abstract) Possibly the researchers and practitioners are correct, forgiveness has no place in psychoanalysis.

However, I would submit that forgiveness has a role in sustaining personal well-being with profound spiritual implications. We are all wounded. When individuals hurt because of the acts of another person or their own volition, we feel anger, resentment, betrayal, and at times hatred. All of these negative feelings can result in depression, discouragement and defeat.

Forgiveness can be a means to experiencing positive spiritual, emotional and physical well-being. Research has suggested that forgiveness can decrease blood pressure, reduce depression and stress, and bring calmness, growth, and serenity. When we forgive we let go of damaging feelings and are then able to rediscover compassion and grace.


Max Lindenman states in his article, Moral Injury Shows the Limits of Forgiveness, “God’s mercy doesn’t heal moral injury; instead, moral injury prevents us from experiencing, or accepting, God’s mercy.” (July 8, 2015, posted on Patheos, Hosting the Conversation on Faith) If Lindenman is correct, how can the veteran journey toward forgiveness? How can the veteran who has experienced a spiritual injury, whether PTSD, moral injury, or a soul wound, journey toward transformation and healing of the soul? They begin a long spiritual quest that includes confession and forgiveness. Last month we discussed confession. Now we turn to forgiveness.

Forgiveness is an active choice. It is intentional and voluntary. Intentional – It follows personal assessment and insight. Voluntary – Forgiveness cannot be imposed by others.

It is a process and it takes time. Process – Forgiveness is not about saying the words. It is an active process where the person wronged or the person who has committed the offense undergoes a change in feelings and attitude toward the offender, or the incident, or themselves. We must also remember, forgiving does not mean forgetting. Even after forgiving, most likely we will remember the injury, but we will no longer be controlled by anger, resentment, and hatred.

Time – Forgiveness occurs over a period of time as the person works through several phases; exploring the pain, gaining insight, and exploring resolution. Also, forgiveness does not necessarily connote reconciliation with the offender. We can forgive and later decide we do not want to be in relationship with the other person. Important to note, when we forgive, we are no longer bitter toward those who wronged us or shamed by the act toward the person we wronged.

By forgiving others and ourselves, we gain control of our lives from destructive and hurtful emotions.


Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures offer much instruction when it comes to forgiveness. There are three kinds of forgiveness;

  • God’s pardon of our sins
  • our obligation to forgive others their sins
  • the ability to forgive ourselves

All three are important to understand for our discussion. In order for any of us to experience personal well-being, we must experience all three. Let’s briefly look at each.

God’s pardon of sin – War has been regarded as a gross consequence of human failure; in theological language, sin. The conduct of war often descends into brutality. Even when the outcome may bring peace, the broken and shattered lives along the way become a reminder to those who were engaged of war’s harsh realities.  A sense of brokenness and alienation from God occurs resulting in warriors experiencing grievous wounds to their souls.

We cannot repair our broken relationship with God on our own. David, warrior and general, experienced a spiritual injury. He boldly confesses his sin to God and asks for forgiveness. (Psalm 51) God can remove the stain of guilt, create a clean heart, and renew the spirit. We are reminded each time we celebrate Holy Communion, that on the night prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus took a cup of wine and told his disciples, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28, NIV)

Our obligation to forgive others – Forgiving others means releasing the other person from blame, leaving it to God, and moving on. Some guiding principles are: We do not seek revenge. (Romans 12:17ff) We are tenderhearted toward the person who sinned against us. (Ephesians 4:32) We actively seek the repentance of the person who wronged us. (Matthew 18:15-17) Lastly, we do so because we have been forgiven by God. In Colossians, Paul reminds us that just as the Lord graciously forgave us, we should extend the same kindness to others. “You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” (3:13, NLT)

Our ability to forgive ourselves – Often the most difficult thing for us to do is forgive ourselves when we do something wrong. We are our hardest critic. Even long after God and others have forgiven us, we still beat ourselves up. Learning to forgive others involves learning to forgive ourselves. Seeking forgiveness from God and others when we are in the wrong is important. But it is just as important to learn from our mistakes and move on. Scripture reminds us to love one another as we love ourselves. Should we not also forgive ourselves as we forgive others?


Forgiveness opens the veteran to experience an abundant life. A path of forgiveness represents growth and can lead the veteran toward personal well-being.  To do so, we rediscover compassion and grace.

All too often, society replaces grace with shame, resulting in feeling unworthy, cutoff from God and one another. Once we throw off shame, grace seeps into our souls. Forgiveness is the vehicle to experience grace.

If forgiveness is the vehicle, what is the path? There are numerous paths to experiencing grace. We will highlight three: ritual, story, and service.

Ritual – The faith community over the centuries has practiced forgiveness through ritual. Ritual can help the veteran to accomplish several things;

  • come to terms with that which hurt
  • move from anger to understanding

There are many rituals available to the veteran. Central to most faith communities are practices and rituals offering forgiveness. Whether through corporate or individual prayer, persons can seek forgiveness from God, their neighbor, and themselves.

Prayers of forgiveness can take many forms;

  • composed prayers or litanies (The Book of Common Prayer, Iona Abbey Worship Book, The Work of Your Hands are some examples, or websites:,,
  • extemporaneous prayers
  • a letter to God
  • praying in action (art and craft, collage, symbolic actions)

Often the veteran cannot express or seek forgiveness face-to-face from the persons they have harmed. However, the veteran can journey toward forgiveness through ritual by practicing forgiveness by a simple act such as;

  • write a letter expressing hurt and anger, then burn it
  • write another letter expressing forgiveness and the reasons behind the decision, keep letter or mail it to the person harmed

Story – One of the most powerful paths a veteran can take is through community, a community of other veterans. Other veterans understand the story of pain, death, destruction, and desolation. Because veterans share a similar context of loss, guilt and shame, they most often will listen, respond with support not judgment, and not condemn nor excuse what has happened. Just sharing it is helpful, but having others who understand becomes healing.

Service to others – By practicing acts of kindness opens the veteran’s heart and eyes to recognize the goodness in themselves. This also reinforces a sense of belonging in community and of acceptance in the community. Acts of kindness avails the veteran to work through the most difficult part of forgiveness, self.

Forgiveness is truly the grace by which we enable ourselves and others to begin anew with dignity. If you have experienced other ways toward forgiveness, please share with us.

Next month, we will discuss the third step in the spiritual model for healing from moral injury, self-acceptance. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

Soul Care Conversation (Faith Community Assets for Veteran Care, Search for Justice)

June 9th, 2016 Posted by Blog 2 comments

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversation is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

About a month ago we began a conversation with a new focus, the faith community’s strengths and capacities for veteran care. The first topic we discussed was hospitality. Next we looked at the importance of ritual as a means of support for the veteran to transition from the battlefield to civilian society. Last week, we discussed how the Eucharist may be a means toward healing and well-being. This week, we will share how the faith community can journey with the veteran in a search for justice and restoration.


Restorative justice has its origin in legal principles. It is an approach that focuses on the needs of;

  • victim
  • offender
  • community

Both the victim and the offender take an active role in the process. A dialogue ensues where the victim shares what he or she desires to be done to repair the harm and the offender takes responsibility for his or her action. The results foster victim satisfaction and offender accountability. More importantly, the results suggest the beginning of healing for both the victim and the offender.

The community has an active role as well. The community seeks to;

  • build a partnership between victim and offender
  • re-establish mutual responsibility for constructive responses
  • pursue a balanced approach to the needs of the victim and the offender

While restorative justice may have its origins in legal principles, it has as its roots the biblical concept of justice that focuses on the victim, the offender, and the community in the hope of restoring all to a sense of God’s wholeness. Several months ago, we began to develop a theology toward healing. We discussed restorative justice as a part of God’s purpose in redeeming a broken world. Justice is the basic principle upon which God’s creation has been established. It is an integral part in God’s redemptive pursuit to wholeness.

We also discovered that the Gospels remind us that healing and restorative justice remain at the center of God’s response. Jesus conveys the message for the faith community to be healers, peacemakers, and justice doers when faced with brokenness, emptiness, alienation, and violence. Through compassion, love, mercy, and forgiveness, Jesus models how to transform lives and restore dignity and purpose to the injured, broken and lost.

Jesus’ message focused on something radically different; those who know God’s mercy must share it with others. Jesus instructs his followers to do the same. The God of restorative justice works in and through the faith community to bring healing and wholeness.


While in Iraq in 2003, Champion Main, the headquarters for the 82nd Airborne Division experienced a vehicle born improvised explosive device (VBIED) on the “secure” forward operating base. After triage of the casualties and the discovery that one US Soldier was killed, 20 volunteers received a very sterile briefing on how to process the scene which included picking up body parts. Important to any warrior is that if killed in action, they would not be left on the battlefield, but honored by being returned to family for burial. In this situation it was not so easy at times to determine whose pieces of human remains we were securing, the two Iraqi insurgents or our brother in arms.

However, there was one incident where it was very evident. A First Sergeant, who was one of the volunteers, approached me to say that he had found the two heads of the insurgents, about 75 meters from the point of the explosion. He said he could not retrieve them and asked me if I could do so. As I walked to where the First Sergeant said they were located, I did not consider what I would do or how it would affect me. As I picked up the heads and placed them in a bag, I said a prayer, “God, may these men rot in Hell!”

It took several days to realize what I experienced on 11 December 2003. Not only was I recovering from my own proximity to the explosion and the anger of losing one of my brothers in arms, I reflected on my prayer. Here I am nearly 13 years removed from that day, I still mourn the loss of my brother in arms. I can recall the horrors of picking up pieces of human remains. But, the part of that experience that I still struggle with was my prayer. How does God’s restorative justice work here? Where can I experience healing?


The faith community has an important role in a healing strategy; to share God’s mercy by being a blessing to others. As we recall Jesus’ message of sharing mercy, the church can walk with veterans and their families on a healing journey as a means of restorative justice. A faith community that lives this role will be a partner with the veteran in a difficult and long journey.

Jesus provides us with three distinct models of justice. Each have a radical approach that at their core exemplifies the role of the community in sharing God’s mercy to the victim and the offender;

  1. In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus explored the responsibility the community has for those who have been victimized: “‘Now which of these three would you think was neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?’ The man replied, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Yes, now go and do the same.'” (New Living Translation, Luke 10:36-37).
  2. Jesus was concerned about offenders by exhibiting mercy as a model of justice rather than retribution and vengeance. “You have heard that the Law of Moses says, ‘If an eye is injured, injure the eye of the person who did it. If a tooth gets knocked out, knock out the tooth of the person who did it.’ But I say, don’t resist an evil person! If you are slapped on the right cheek, turn the other too…” (New Living Translation, Matthew 5:38-39)
  3. But Jesus’ model of mercy went even further. The community also has a responsibility to directly care for the injured, broken, alienated, and lost. “I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me…and the King will tell them, ‘I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me.'” (New Living Translation, Matthew 25:36, 40)
In each of these models, the central actor is the community. So, how can the faith community live out the biblical imperative of justice through the initiatives of restoration, mercy, and wholeness with our veterans? The faith community can be a blessing, a blessing to our veterans who are “victims” or who are “offenders.” The faith community can do this by;
  • engaging the veteran through opportunities of worship, prayer, study, fellowship, and counseling in order to restore relationships that have been broken
  • modeling conflict transformation by bearing witness to each other’s stories
  • empowering the veteran to make amends if necessary
  • seeking opportunities for reconciliation through forgiveness and healing, and the service to others
  • sharing the sacred story that includes the role of the Soldier’s faith
  • addressing the larger community and faith community’s role in the harm to the veteran

Possibly you can think of others to share! Through restorative justice, the faith community is uniquely positioned to “be a blessing” to veterans and their families who have experienced a soul wound. Next week we will share how the Sacred Story can prove to be a critical component toward healing. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

Soul Care Conversation (Transforming Spiritual Trauma)

March 21st, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversation is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

For the last several weeks we have explored the various components of spirituality and how it effects our veterans by trying to understand spirituality and meaning, the “why”, and spirituality and suffering, “why me?” This week we will look at transforming spiritual trauma, “what now”.


War has been regarded as a gross consequence of human failure.  In theological language, sin.  The conduct of war often descends into brutality.  Even when the outcome may bring peace, the broken and shattered lives along the way become a reminder to those who were engaged in war’s harsh realities.  A sense of brokenness and alienation from God, self and others is a consequence.  Many warriors have experienced grievous wounds to their souls.

Violence and killing are timeless descriptions of war. However, it is in the act of war that three distinctive injuries can occur; PTSD, moral injury and soul wounds. All three have spiritual implications. For several months we discussed the impact and the symptoms of trauma on the warrior. We determined that there are numerous similarities within the symptoms of the psychological, emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and the spiritual impacts of trauma;

  • anger
  • rage
  • moodiness
  • isolation
  • hyper-vigilance
  • confusion
  • isolation
  • impaired memory
  • depression
  • inability to sleep

Some of the spiritual symptoms of trauma are;

  • doubt
  • grief
  • fear
  • hopelessness
  • loneliness

These can lead to feelings of abandonment and loss of faith in God. The spiritual symptoms of trauma may change as time passes and a person moves further away from the acute phase of trauma recovery. Trauma can be associated with loss of faith, diminished participation in religious or spiritual activities, changes in belief, feelings of being abandoned or punished by God, and loss of meaning and purpose for living.

At the very core of spiritual trauma, loss. While in combat the warrior will experience loss. The warrior’s battle buddy may die or be wounded. Or, the warrior experiences a loss in faith (faith in leaders, faith in execution of the war, faith in country, faith in God). Lastly the warrior may experience a loss of hope, hope for the future.


Spiritual beliefs may influence the trauma survivor’s ability to begin a journey of healing following the trauma experience.  Several studies have indicated that negative thoughts or attributions about God, such as “God has abandoned me,” and “God is punishing me,” or, being angry at God are associated with a number of poor clinical outcomes.  One study of veterans being treated for PTSD found that negative religious coping and lack of forgiveness were both associated with worse PTSD and depression symptoms. (Witvliet, C. V. O., Phillips, K. A., Feldman, M. E., & Beckham, J. C. (2004). Posttraumatic mental and physical health correlates to forgiveness and religious coping in military veterans. (Journal of Traumatic Stress, 17 (3), 269-273)

How can the returning veteran journey toward transformation and healing of the soul?  They begin a long spiritual quest that may include;

  • repentance
  • forgiveness
  • mourning
  • lamenting
  • reconciliation

The church is no stranger to such quests.  When a warrior has a soul wound, the faith community can live out a critical role in the warrior’s journey.

There are important factors that clergy, lay leadership and congregations must be aware.  Forgiveness from war related trauma can be complicated and elusive.  Some veterans do not like the person they have become and they become mired in shame.  Some carry deep rage and anger thinking they can never be forgiven.  Some do not realize they need forgiveness until years later.  Some compartmentalize what happened and suffer in silence. However, the faith community has many traditional practices that could be offered to the veteran as part of their healing journey. Additionally, there are Native American spiritual practices that would not be considered “traditional” in many faith communities, however they provide powerful resources that could be healing.

Providing the veteran opportunities for remembering and grieving becomes critical in their spiritual journey.  While in the war zone, survival comes first.  Remembrance and grief get put on hold.  Encourage the warrior to remember and mourn the loss of friends, or safety, or innocence, and possibly their faith.  Allow them to express their full force of feelings such as hatred, abject despair, loneliness, confusion, terror, rage.  Provide them with some examples of lamentations, such as David in the Psalms.  Share that lament is being totally honest with God.  This could be accomplished in numerous ways; pastoral counseling, during a special service for veterans, a retreat, or in a peer to peer support group.

As we have discovered earlier, meaning making or serving others is a big part of the spiritual journey.  Often, it is in service of others that the veteran begins to see the positive connection with others, and see this as a way to make amends.  This can be done by providing support to the family and buddy who was killed or wounded.  Or by connecting to an organization formed by veterans to make reparations or support refugees.  Opportunities such as these provide the veteran opportunities for meaning making.

We discussed several weeks ago that spirituality is the dimension of human beings that seeks healing. Often spirituality is expressed as religion. For many people religion forms a basis of meaning and purpose in life. The profoundly disturbing effects of trauma can call into question a person’s purpose in life and work.  Healing, the restoration of wholeness, requires an answer to the question, “what now”.

Our next conversation we will look at a theology of healing. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

Soul Care Conversation (Moral Injury)

February 4th, 2016 Posted by Blog 4 comments

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversation is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

We have determined in our conversation during these last several weeks that the effects of trauma on our bodies, our minds, and our spirits, are profound. Two weeks ago we looked at three distinctive and yet similar war injuries that have spiritual implications; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), moral injury and soul wounds. Last week we focused specifically on PTSD. This week we will look at moral injury.


In our conversations over these last several weeks we began to see some similarities within the symptoms of the psychological, physical, behavioral, and the spiritual impacts of trauma and moral injury. So, what is moral injury?

The term moral injury is fairly new, however the concept goes back to the Iliad and Odyssey. Recent attention has been given to moral injury as a reality for most combat warriors. Some experts describe moral injury as a psychological scar of war. However, it has not yet been codified as an injury.

Moral injury is unlike PTSD, which is based on fear from feeling one’s life threatened. Moral injury produces guilt and shame from something done or witnessed that goes against one’s values. Men and women have returned from war broken and their diagnosis is wrongly labeled PTSD because their wound was not recognized as a moral injury.

Our warriors grow up with a given moral code of conduct. Moral codes come into conflict during war.  What we were taught, “You shall not murder.”  What we experienced in combat, “I killed another human being.”  What we were taught, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  What we experienced in combat, “I have injured another.”  What we were taught, “The name of the  Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe.”  What we experience in combat, “My friend died.”  What we were taught, “God is love.” What we experienced in combat, “I have faced evil and have been lessened by it.”

Warriors may take a human life motivated either by a direct command, or survival, or from fear. This may be in direct contrast with a moral code they lived with previously and now sets the stage for moral injury, a painful psychological and spiritual wound.  Or, the injury is brought about by bearing witness to perceived or a real immoral act that brings about pain, suffering or death to others. Or, the injury could be brought on by committing an error that resulted in the loss of life of a battle buddy or a non-combatant.

Thomas Gibbons-Neff, a combat veteran approaches moral injury from a warrior perspective in his article in the Washington Post, “Haunted by their decision in war.” He reflects on the challenge that the Veterans Administration (VA) and the returning warrior have in understanding the difference between PTSD and moral injury. He writes, “Moral injury…isn’t really a part of the ‘returning veteran’ lexicon; instead, veterans use PTSD as a convenient catchall…While in many cases they can overlap, differentiating the two allows the returning veteran to understand not only the trauma he or she experienced but also the damage left by the decisions made in war.”

As I engaged in conversations with medical and behavioral health professionals while in Iraq and Afghanistan, they stated that in order to understand moral injury and address its effects, we must first recognize that it exists.


The veteran community can provide a vital role in the journey toward healing.

Despair, this word that’s so hard to get our arms around, Ashley Gilbertson reflects in the Virginia Quarterly Review on his profile of Noah Pierce, an Iraq veteran who committed suicide in 2007. It’s despair that rips people apart [who] feel they’ve become irredeemable.

In his article, “Moving Beyond PTSD to ‘Moral Injury‘” Jeff Severns Guntzel reflects on this profound statement as he reviews a 2010 interview with Dr. Jonathan Shay by Public Broadcasting’s “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.” Dr. Shay, a VA psychiatrist for over 20 years, states that “We’re turning our attention to this idea of moral injury and the limits of the PTSD diagnosis to explore what happens to a person who has experienced combat.” Dr. Shay continues by sharing, “It’s titanic pain that these men live with…in part because they feel they deserve it, and in part because they don’t feel people will understand it.”

It is interesting, Dr. Shay suggests that treating moral injury “happens not in the clinic, but community.”

Peers are the key to recovery — I can’t emphasize that enough. Credentialed mental health professionals like me have no place in center stage. It’s the veterans themselves, healing each other, that belong at center stage. We are stagehands — get the lights on, sweep out the gum wrappers, count the chairs, make sure it’s a safe and warm enough place…

Also, in an article, “Moral Injury in the context of war”, written for the National Center for PTSD, Department of VA, suggests that pilot testing is underway in evidence based treatments. These experiential strategies are associated with increased post-traumatic growth. The key element in each of these strategies, forgiveness.


As we look at both of these treatment strategies, community and forgiveness, the faith community can provide a critical role.

Recall the description of Noah Pierce’s feeling of despair, about being irredeemable. The feeling of being irredeemable has powerful spiritual implications. Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures share stories of men and women of faith who felt despair, shame, and dishonor because of something they had done. Each had to search their own soul and cry out to the One who brings forgiveness, wholeness, and restoration. Each discovered the importance of finding a companion to share their story, find encouragement, and at times hear the difficult realities of their soul.

As Dr. Shay suggests, treating moral injury happens in the community. The faith community can live out a critical part in this healing journey. The faith community offers the Sacred story that reveals to the “irredeemable” the One who loves them no matter what they have done or the state of their soul. The faith community also listens to the veteran’s sacred story. Deep listening is the beginning of the healing journey for our veterans.

What do you see as possible ways to be in partnership with our veterans who suffer from moral injury?

Next week we will discuss soul wounds…until then thank you for the conversation.